I just received John W. Rogerson’s new volume A Theology of the Old Testament: Cultural Memory, Communication, and Being Human (Fortress 2010). I found the following lines especially insightful and worthwhile as one contemplates the seemingly innocuous (though it hardly is!) questions of how to do Old Testament theology. Discussing Qoheleth (though these remarks are applicable well beyond the confines of only that biblical book, speaking to the larger interpretive task of actually doing OT theology), he writes:
“The negative remarks about Qoheleth’s faith in God [ . . . ] imply that there is only one genuine type of experience or knowledge of God and that Qoheleth lacks this. It is a way of reading the Old Testament from the perspective of a type of orthodoxy that privileges certain strands of religious experience. This brings with it the danger that the theological witness of the Old Testament becomes restricted and diminished, because those who approach it in this way know in advance what it says, or ought to say, about God. The view taken in the present work is that the Old Testament speaks with many voices and that readers will do well to listen to them rather than decide in advance which are the most congenial” (54).
Absolutely spot on. While none of us are disinterested readers, it is one thing to be forthright and transparent about what one brings to the text as a reader, and quite another to impose a grid on the text that makes it conform to what you want it to say. A muzzled biblical text does no good for anyone.
4 thoughts on “Old Testament Theology Thursday (J.W. Rogerson Edition)”
I made a big deal about this paragraph (in the margins) when I came to it reading through Rogerson. And to do it with Qohelet! It absolutely made my day!!
Now, if only these two options would stay tidily separated, we’d be off to a great start! 😉
@Joseph: I’m ambivalent about whether these statements are made in reference to Qoheleth or not. It is tremendously unfortunate and dissatisfying to me that many cannot and do get to realizing this point in the first place.
@Aaron: Unfortunatey, I think this is somewhat impossible. I envision it as a continuum or spectrum; we all have baggage we bring to the text. I just wish folk were more transparent about it, or at least let the text speak for itself rather than speaking for the text. Descriptive theology . . .
“Unfortunatey, I think this is somewhat impossible.”
Yeah, that’s the problem. But I agree: if everyone would just own up to their presuppositions, we’d be fine. But many people still drink the modernist koolaid, and think they’re being “neutral” or “unbiased” with the text, just “reporting the facts.” But you’re absolutely right :-).
P.S. I’m headed to Yale Div in the Fall for an MA in philosophical theology!